Mind the GAP...Producing food is risky business.
This is especially true if being a producer is your sole means of income. Over the years many a young farmer has started out with high hopes, only to learn the realities of farming can be…well…harsh. It takes a special kind of resilience and a bit of luck to make it in the long run in the farming industry. Careful planning for all of nature’s devious tricks, as well as for the possible risks from your human counterparts is a must.
That last part might sound a little strange to a new farmer, or an industry outsider; but, to those of you who produce food for a living, the human element of risk is all too familiar. For example, the “CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of food borne diseases.” (www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/) What is troubling about this type of statistic for the farming community is that some of these ‘outbreaks’ have been “traced back to the farm where the produce commodity was grown.”(www.kyagr.com) However, the vast majority of these illnesses come from third party handling of produce, as well as end user handling. This equates to outside risk assumed by the farmer of how other individuals handle the produce you have grown.
OK, so now that we’ve gotten the scary stat out of the way, let’s look at how food producers can protect themselves. The common answer here is GAP certification. GAP stands for Good Agricultural Practices. This concept may seem a bit too intuitive to be a policy that has garnered so much national attention; however, there are many concepts included in GAP that are not commonly practiced on even the strictest of farms. With this in mind, just about every producer stands to gain several benefits from the GAP certification process.
The certification process can be broken down into three distinct parts:
3. Third-party Audit
Each of these parts comes with its own unique benefits to the producer; however, not every part is advisable for every producer who approaches GAP certification (more on that in a minute). Overall there is quite a lot of information packed into those three small bullet points above. So, let’s delve a little further into each of them and take a closer look.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA), University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, and the Kentucky Department for Public Health have all partnered to provide KY farmers with a wealth of information concerning GAP certification. This is really good news for KY producers, as with a combination of state and private online resources a producer can make great strides to improving their production process.
Kentucky’s education process is summed up as follows:
“The first part of Kentucky's GAP Training Program is education. A curriculum has been developed that has been given to county Cooperative Extension Agents to present to local producers. During this class producers learn the best practices that will reduce the risk of their product becoming contaminated. Upon completion of this class the farmer receives a certificate issued by the KDA, a GAP Training Certificate. The certificate is a component of the requirements to allow raw product samples at Kentucky Farmers' Markets and Kentucky Farm Bureau Certified Roadside Markets.” (www.kyagr.com/marketing/GAP.html)
If the only step you, as a producer, took in the GAP cert process was this one, it would be well worth it. There is no end to the benefits you can reap from education.
A self-audit is meant to be carried out as a precursor to the third party audit. The assessment can help producers identify risks, and possible points of contamination, as well as developing strategies aimed at dealing with those issues. One of the steps that should be undertaken during this step is the development of a Farm Food Safety Plan. This plan details the producer’s adherence to GAPs as well as providing documentation to auditors to demonstrate that food safety plans are actually being followed.
In researching this step of the process we discovered a great online tool provided by the On-Farm Food Safety Project. This tool guides producers through the process of creating a personalized food-safety plan, and furthers the education process by helping to identify and mitigate food-safety risks.
“Two-and-a-half years in development, the on-line program is based on harmonized GAP standards and uses decision trees to help farmers develop a customized food-safety plan and document their practices. It also can help in preparing for a food-safety audit if a company decides to pursue GAP certification, Mr. Slama said.” (unitedag.org)
You can find the tool here: https://onfarmfoodsafety.org/ (did I mention, it’s free!)
This is the link for Kyagr.com resources: http://www.kyagr.com/marketing/GAP-resources.html
The last part of the GAP cert process is one that producers should consider carefully before entering into. This part of the process brings an inspector out to the farm for a walkthrough of the production, harvest and transportation system process. This is all done with the producer, and can be a valuable experience, as the inspector will make observations and suggestions as needed. This step should be carefully considered, because of its cost, and the necessity based on market. NC State University did a study on the value of GAP certification as a whole (NCSU Study ), and what they found was the necessity of certification was entirely circumstantial. It all depends on the individual needs of the farm.
If you are a small producer, and your market does not require you to hold GAP cert, then by all means do not pay for a third-party Audit. However, if you are in a market where buyers require the third-party Audit (as more and more of them are doing) then you may have no choice, but to have the audit done. Either way (or many ways in between) careful consideration here is a must. One final note, the KDA has developed a cost sharing program. This can drastically reduce the direct cost to a producer by combining inspections for multiple farms. See their website for details.
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